UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Collaborative planning of interdisciplinary experiences : a case study at the middle school level Kain, Daniel Lawrence


This case study examined how a team of middle school teachers from different subject areas collaboratively planned interdisciplinary experiences for their students. Using fieldwork research methods, including long-term participant-observation, interviewing and document analysis, the study explored how team members planned interdisciplinary experiences. Data were analyzed through a process of searching for patterns, coding and comparison, utilizing the Hackman and Oldham (1980) model of group effectiveness as a heuristic for understanding the group processes. The results of this study raise questions about the preeminence of the "interdisciplinary thematic unit" in middle school rhetoric. The team developed a conception of interdisciplinary that progressed through phases of elusion and inclusion to allusion. Team members chose not to create any tightly-structured interdisciplinary thematic units, and they did not follow any established planning processes designed for creating such units; rather, they dialogued about their subject areas in ways that allowed them to make ongoing connections between subjects. Through their dialogues, team members gained insight into both their own subject areas and connections among subject areas. The Interdisciplinary Judgment Matrix was developed as a means of understanding team members' decision-making in determining whether to plan interdisciplinary experiences. This matrix presents the teachers' decision-making as a process of judging the relevance of potential interdisciplinary experiences both to the established curriculum and to the subject specialists’ criteria for what students ought to derive from a course. The matrix argues that team members do not merely follow a curriculum guide or textbook, but make professional judgments balancing the demands of the curriculum with subject specialists' assumptions and concerns. The study has implications for both practitioners and researchers. Middle school team members need to be given time to develop a conception of interdisciplinarity that fits with their understanding of the purposes of teaming. Also, rather than implementing pre-packaged interdisciplinary thematic units, such teams should be encouraged to dialogue about their subject areas in order to make meaningful and ongoing connections for their students. Rather than adhering to a set of steps for creating interdisciplinary thematic units, middle school teams must learn to discuss the substance of their teaching with one another. Such discussion promises professional growth through everyday occupational conditions. Based on the findings of this study, researchers might profitably investigate the role of unit planning as the common focus of collaborative planning. The study also suggests research into the effectiveness of pre-established planning models as compared to the dialoguing the study recommends. Finally, the study raises a research question about the interplay of collaborative groups with the larger culture of the school.

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